Bertus de Jong 03/05/2019
With a youthful looking squad and an absent Jonathan Vandiar, HCC were more-or-less targetting a mid-table finish last season, and got it. The side is a year older this time round, and may revise their expectations upwards somewhat, even if rumours of Vandiar’s return proved only half-true (that is to say, he’s back in the country but headed to Punjab Rotterdam).
Bryce Street, the seam all-rounder brought in as Vandiar’s replacement, did an admirable job last season filling those considerable shoes with 649 runs at 41 and 23 wickets, and the addition of 21 year-old left-handed opener Adam Wiffen, who comes across from Worcestershire and has already drawn the attention of national team coach Ryan Campbell, means HCC’s top-order looks a deal stronger than last summer.
With two young overseas signings and the retirement of skipper Mark Jonkman over the winter,HCC will be reliant on the increasing maturity of youth graduates Hidde Overdijk and Tonny Staal, both now 23 and hovering around the fringes of national selection, and u-19s bat Boris Gorlee. Staal, returned from a season at Balcatta CC in Perth Grade Cricket, will be the league’s second-youngest captain, and if rumours that overseas spinner Ryan Ninan’s is in doubt prove accurate, HCC’s leadership group will look very young indeed.
Should Ninan stay away, HCC’s slow-bowling options will also be limited to part-timers or fringe players, though even without Jonkman the seam section of Qasim, Bijloos, Overdijk and Street is an enviable one. Consecutive defeats in their two warm-up matches against VRA and Excelsior do not augur well, however. A slow start last season left them fighting an uphill battle all Summer, and Staal’s side have no more time to settle in. There’s plenty of young talent at de Diepput, but they’ll need to hit the ground running if they are to mount a serious challenge this season.
After two championships on the trot in 2016 and 2017, Excelsior ‘20 finished a disappointing 4th last season, 5 wins behind VOC at the top of the table. A comparatively quiet season (by his standards) for star overseas Lorenzo Ingram rather exposed the Schiedammer’s reliance on the Jamaican left-arm spinning all-rounder, especially in terms of batting. Ingram’s tally of 611 runs was more than 200 clear of the next contributor, Tim Etman. The likely absence this season of opening bowler and lower-order trouble-shooter James Hilditch, who has been roped in as Assistant coach for the national team, is also likely to put more pressure on the young core of the side to step up this season.
That said, the signing of former West Indies test bat Brenton Parchment, probably the most eye-catching acquisition of the season will likely do more than a little to shore up the batting. Joost Kroesen’s unbeaten 80 in a warm-up against Hermes also suggest he may have put a disappointing 2018 behind him, and skipper Tom Heggelman also has runs under his belt heading into the season opener against Quick Haag.
Umar Baker arrives from VOC to share in Ingram’s slow-bowling duties, whilst Parchment is also capable of sending down some serviceable off-spin. Heggelman meanwhile leads a sprightly but occasionally expensive pace attack further comprising Sohail Bhatti, Gijs Kroesen and Rens van Troost, and will at least be spoiled for options when cycling through his attack.
With the addition of Parchment and Baker the Schiedammers arguably have a stronger side than they did in either of their championship seasons, but last season it was above all the failure of the promising youngsters in the side to kick on that cost them a shot at defending their title. Good seasons for one or both of their Jamaican overseas will likely be enough to keep them in contention this time round, but the Thurlede faithful will be hoping above all that their maturing youth cohort come into their own this season.
HBS-Craeyenhout’s big-hitting top order couldn’t quite carry them into Topklasse title contention last year, despite Sharn Gomes, Wesley Barresi, Toby Visee and Jaron Morgan all crossing 500 runs in the season. Even with the departure of Morgan the top order remains the most intimidating in the league, however, and with Western Province opener Zac Elkin coming in to play foil to the ever explosive Visee at the top of the order the batting may even have gained a degree of stability.
New Zealand under-19s seamer Zak Gibson also joins the Crows, taking some pressure off spearhead Berend Westdijk who will likely be skipping a few games this season owing to work commitments. With Farshad Khan and Wessel Coster coming off the back of solid seasons, the HBS pace attack looks in good shape, whilst the spin attack comprising Wesley Barresi (who has taken to his new role as off-spinning all-rounder with all the zealousness of a convert) paired with the ever more impressive Julian de Mey looks equally sound. With allrounders Navjit Singh and Ferdi Vink also impressing last season, there’s no obvious weak links in this HBS side.
After claiming the national T20 title last season, the Crows were disappointed to discover that qualification for the new European Championship competition hinged on final Topklasse standings. It’s not out of the question that they’ll make doubly sure of their place in the next edition by the simple expedient of winning both this time round.
After two seasons in a row as runners-up, VRA will be looking to end their seven-year title drought this season. They fell short by just one win last time round, and again a slow start to the season was in part to blame as opening losses to Quick and Excelsior left them playing catch-up for much of the season. They’ll be looking for a stronger start this time round, though with only a single serious warm-up against HCC ahead of the season opener against ACC on Sunday they risk again going in under-cooked.
They did bet HCC comfortably however, with rather unheralded overseas signing Brandon Graber bagging four wickets. South African seamer Graber comes in to replace the departing Vivian Kingma (who was largely sidelined by injury last season) and is one of a number of somewhat low-profile additions to the VRA roster that nonetheless look to have shored-up a side that often struggles with player availability, with Englishmen Matt Lake, Graeme Scott and Thomas Long also joining the side.
Headed the other way is opening bat Daan ter Braak, who won’t be returning for another season. His departure leaves a 600+-run gap in the batting and whilst new skipper Emile van den Burg would doubtless be delighted if Lake were to fill it, VRA will likely be looking first to the veteran Eric Szwarczynski to bounce back from a disappointing 2018 and cover the shortfall. Given a batting line-up that also includes Ben Cooper and former captain Peter Borren, VRA need not rue ter Braak’s departure unduly if the senior players deliver.
Borren will doubtless have a role to play with the ball too, though with Graber, Quirijn Gunning and Haseeb Gul in the side as front-line seamers and a solid spin section in Adeel Raja and Leon Turmaine he will hope to have more competition for the VRA lead wicket-taker title than he did last season. All told the Amsterdammers head into 2019 with a balanced side and a deeper bench than they have in the past couple of years, and going one better this time round is far from out of the question.
2018 champions VOC Rotterdam will have to mount their title defense without the services of new-ball spearhead Freddy Klaassen, the left arm quick having been picked up by Kent over the winter. The loss of their lead wicket-taker inevitably takes some of the sting out of the VOC seam attack, with more responsibility falling on the shoulders of Dirk van Baren, Bobby Hanif and newcomer Ashiqullah Said, as well as Pierce Fletcher, especially at the death.
VOC have never been over-reliant on pace however, their unbeaten home record at the spin-friendly Hazelaarweg last year largely built around the slow-bowling trio of Umar Baker, Max O’Dowd and skipper Pieter Seelaar. With Baker departing for Thurlede, O’Dowd and Seelaar will be all the more crucial to VOC’s fortunes both with bat and ball.
Together with keeper Scott Edwards, O’Dowd and Seelaar provided the bulk of VOC’s runs last season. VOC will hope that Corey Rutgers (the trio’s former analyst with the national side and VOC’s main overseas player) will be able to contribute more from the top of the order after a shattered finger rather limited his effectiveness last season.
As much as the absence of Klaassen, it is the strengthening competition that poses the biggest obstacle to a successful title defense for VOC – with their nearest rivals bagging some judicious signings and newcomers VCC arriving in the top division with an intimidating roster – but bar Klaassen the principle components of last season’s success remain in place.